Theatre: Memories are made of this
MNEMONIC RIVERSIDE STUDIOS LONDON
Wednesday 01 December 1999
While everyone is thus blinkered, Simon McBurney, acting like a cross between a stand-up comic and a metaphysical hypnotist, invites you to concentrate on ever more distant moments in your past - New Year's Day 1999; your first day at school etc, and then to the receding vistas of the ancestry which, viewed far enough back, relates everyone in the audience to each other. He then invites you to feel the leaf, imagining that its veins are the complex lines of heritage, ending in the stalk which is you.
This prelude ushers in a wonderfully arresting piece of theatre that could perhaps best be described as a sizzle of connections across the collective synapses. Full of weird scenic mergers, cross-fades, revolving juxtapositions and internal echoes, the show takes us on two simultaneous detective trails into the past.
One follows the forensic and ethical fall-out of the discovery in 1991 in the Austrian alps of the ice-preserved, naked body of a Neolithic man from 5,200 years ago. If that time-scale makes our millennium celebrations look a somewhat parochial affair, the other strand lures us on a mysterious hunt back across the history of our own century.
Alice is desperate to find the father her mother had always claimed was dead. This desire pitches her on an emotionally bruising journey to Berlin, Riga, Warsaw, Switzerland and beyond, and back into the nomadic fate of a representative East European refugee. Caught in a no-man's land between the two worlds is Alice's former boyfriend, Virgil. Played by McBurney, who also conceived and directed the piece, this character provides the show's central image: a naked male body lying on its/his left side, head against a stone - sometimes the Iceman, sometimes Virgil and occupying the tricky interstice between memory and imagination.
The dazzling blizzard of synchronicities in Mnemonic, brilliantly achieved by an endlessly resourceful production, should not blind one to the fact that its primary appeal is to the heart, not the intellect. It is the sort of show that Robert Lepage might create if he had the emotional intelligence. Two simple moral truths emerge. One is that we must rethink our relationship with the past's immensity and learn to empathise with the figure of the Iceman, displayed in its museum fridge, rather than gawp at it with touristic curiosity. This wisdom is conveyed in a beautiful sequence where the cast rotate in an endless cycle of taking it in turns to assume his position.
The second is that when the facts run out, there is an honourable human need for stories. Here my single quibble pops up. The academics with their competing interpretations of the Iceman are presented as self-promoting buffoons. It's very funny, but why is their compulsion to make narrative sense of the phenomenon less worthy of respect than this show? That's a minor caveat, for Mnemonic leaves you needing no aide-memoire: it is authentically unforgettable.
To 8 Jan (0181-237 1111)
Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Porn block in India: hundreds of sexual websites banned, internet outraged
- 2 Malaysia issues arrest warrant for Gordon Brown’s sister-in-law after she publishes stories on leader Najib Razak's financial affairs
- 3 Gamers confess the worst things they've done in The Sims
- 4 Sex with robots will be ‘the norm’ in 50 years
- 5 Barack Obama turns 54: US President's best put downs to celebrate his birthday
The Great British Bake Off, series 6, preview: The most popular show on television is back
National Geographic Traveller Photo Contest 2015 winners in pictures
US bookshop offers Go Set A Watchman refunds over false marketing as 'nice summer novel'
Sherlock season 4: Benedict Cumberbatch will be 'a lot less brattish' in Victorian special
Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar enter Forbes’ highest paid actors list for first time
Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims
Calais Migrant Crisis: Deputy Mayor of Calais labels Cameron's use of 'swarm' as 'racist' and 'ignorant'
Chris Leslie: Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity agenda will harm the poor, says Labour shadow Chancellor
Landlords renting properties to illegal immigrants to face up to five years in prison
While we fixate on Calais, the Home Office is quietly deporting dozens of migrants on 'ghost flights'
Labour leadership race: Jeremy Corbyn could be the next Prime Minister, says Ken Clarke